My copy of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet is yellow with age. The copyright date is 1982, and I discovered that I had bracketed certain passages in a bright pink Flair when I first read it 25 years ago.
The past few days have shown me how swiftly tilting the world can be; since Friday, May 25, my world has turned upside down. I began the school year with a son to whom I felt incredibly close. I end the year with the same son being diagnosed ADHD, with some unknown depressive component, and a suspension for drinking vodka given to him by a fellow student. The planet tilted swiftly all right, at least for me.
It’s funny how several times in my life I’ve gone through a small crisis, and Madeleine L’Engle’s words have brought huge comfort. It happened with this book, too.
We find the echthroi again, first introduced to us in “Wind in The Door.” When Charles Wallace first rides on a unicorn named Gaudior, which is Latin for “more joyful,” Gaudior tells him:
“We have to be careful of Echthroi,” Gaudior warned. “They try to ride the wind and throw us off course.”
“Echthroi-” Charles Wallace’s eyes clouded. “That means the enemy.”
“Echthroi,” Gaudior repeated. “The ancient enemy. He who distorted the harmony, and who has gathered an army of destroyers. They are everywhere in the universe.”
Charles Wallace felt a ripple of cold move along his spine.
“Hold my mane,” the unicorn advised. “There’s always the possibility of encountering an Echthros, and if we do, it’ll try to unseat you.” (p. 47 in my Dell copy, which cost $2.50 in 1982).
Did you catch that last line? “It’ll try to unseat you.” Those words struck at the very core of me; I have rarely felt so “unseated” as I have this week. Once again, fantasy is not so far from reality, at least for me.
Charles Wallace is given an ancient rune by Meg’s mother in law. It reads as follows:
“At Tara in this fateful hour,
I place all Heaven with its power,
And the sun with its brightness,
And the snow with its whiteness,
And the fire with all the strength it hath,
And the lightning with its rapid wrath,
And the winds with their swiftness along their path,
And the sea with its deepness,
And the rocks with their steepness,
And the earth with its starkness:
All these I place,
By God’s almighty help and grace
Between myself and the powers of darkness!”
While Meg kythes with Charles Wallace from her attic bedroom, he must go Within other people in different times and different places, to stop an evil outcome from occurring. Each time, one aspect of the rune is revealed. It’s time travel, yes, but there are also fantasy elements with the unicorn, the echthroi, the Projections they are able to place in Charles’ way, and the life sustaining powers of the Wind.
Madeleine imparts a final lesson for me when Charles Wallace apologizes for trying to force himself and Gaudior to another destination than the one planned:
“I feel all the better for a nap. Gaudior, I’m sorry.”
“For making you try to get us to Patagonia. If I hadn’t, we might not have been nearly killed by the Echthroi.”
“Apology accepted,” Gaudior said briskly. “Have you learned?”
“I’ve learned that every time I’ve tried to control things we’ve had trouble. I don’t know what we ought to do now, or Where or When we ought to go from here. I just don’t know…”
You may choose to pick up this book for the fantasy. For finding further adventures with Charles Wallace and his sister Meg. But, the things I take away with me, from reading this book, are:
1. Don’t allow yourself to be unseated.
2. Don’t be under the impression that it is possible to control things.
Thanks again, Madeleine.